<
>

Big-time boxing a priority at Barclays Center

The Barclays Center in Brooklyn has hosted boxing events since opening its doors in 2012. Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions

In its brief existence the Barclays Center, the $1 billion arena that opened with fanfare in Brooklyn, New York, in September 2012, has quickly become a dominant force in attracting big-time boxing events and there are no plans for that to ease up.

It's just as Brett Yormark, the energetic CEO of the Barclays Center and the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, one of two pro franchises to call the arena home (the NHL's New York Islanders will begin playing there next season), envisioned.

"Boxing is a big part of what we do at Barclays Center," Yormark said. "We're very passionate about it and very deeply committed. I'm happy we can stage a lot of boxing right now. The sport is on the rise and we want to be a big part of it."

That commitment is quite obvious. Just take the past two weeks as an example. In a highly unusual move, the Barclays Center will host two major fight cards in the span of eight days -- unheard of for a major arena.

Last Friday night, the Amir Khan-Chris Algieri welterweight fight headlined a Premier Boxing Champions card on Spike TV. Middleweight champion Miguel Cotto, one of boxing's biggest stars, will make his first title defense when he squares off with former titleholder Daniel Geale on Saturday night on HBO (10:30 ET/PT).

"We want to have boxing on a regular basis. That's for sure," Yormark said. "We decided to give it a shot."

Khan-Algieri was already booked for the arena when Yormark's twin brother, Michael Yormark, an executive with Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports, which promotes Cotto, called him about the Cotto-Geale event.

"My brother called me and wanted to come in the building," Brett Yormark said. "We had already confirmed Khan-Algieri but we didn't think about cannibalization. Boxing is in a growth mode now. We are part of that. I never get concerned about having two concerts back to back and I'm starting to think the same about boxing. So we gave it a shot and I am glad we did.

"It reinforces Barclays Center as a go-to destination for big-time boxing. Another part of our strategy here is that whenever I can glamorize Barclays Center and put it on the national stage I want to do that and the good thing about boxing is all of the cards we do are on national television. Barclays Center was on Spike last week and on HBO this week. That creates a lot of value for our building, for our naming rights [partners] and it's great for the borough of Brooklyn."

Barclays Center is the busiest arena for boxing in the country and Yormark wants it to remain that way. A PBC on ESPN card is on tap for Aug. 1.

"[Cotto-Geale] will be our 13th big night of Brooklyn boxing in just 2½ years and I am proud to say that Barclays Center is the new mecca of boxing in this country," Yormark said.

For years, Cotto called Madison Square Garden, the famed Manhattan arena, his New York home but he will be fighting at Barclays Center for the first time on Saturday. Since hosting its first boxing show six weeks after it opened, Barclays Center has already seen a good bit of history.

• The inaugural card headlined by the Danny Garcia-Erik Morales rematch included four world title bouts, the first in Brooklyn since 1931.

• Bernard Hopkins won a light heavyweight title from Tavoris Cloud to become, at 48, the oldest boxer in history to win a world title, breaking his own record.

• In April, on the second PBC on NBC primetime card, broadcasting legends Marv Albert, Al Michaels and Bob Costas worked on a telecast together for the first time.

"When you think about the culture of Brooklyn, boxing is a big part of it," said middleweight titlist and Brooklyn native Daniel Jacobs, who has fought three times at Barclays Center and likely will fight there again on the Aug. 1 card. "Now we Brooklyn fighters have a place at home to display our talents. A lot of guys didn't have that opportunity to fight in Brooklyn. Now we do."

When the arena opened, Yormark made a deal with Golden Boy Promotions to be the exclusive promoter for boxing and Oscar De La Hoya's company put on several quality cards. Yormark, however, became disenchanted because he wasn't getting as many cards as he wanted.

"They weren't hitting the threshold of fights per year I was looking for so we decided to part ways. It was amicable," Yormark said. "They weren't in position to give me the volume I wanted. I want regularly scheduled bouts at Barclays Center so I had to go in a different direction. Now we are an open room, not exclusive with anyone. We're open to work with any promoter at any time. At the beginning we were aligned with Golden Boy but as we've established ourselves as a national venue for boxing we now work with all promoters."

That was music to the ears of promoter Lou DiBella, born and bred in Brooklyn. When he heard that Barclays Center made a deal with Golden Boy he was livid. He felt that as a native Brooklynite, and as an experienced promoter, it was ridiculous to be shut out of doing business there.

"I got off to a rough start with them because I was really upset because, as a kid from Brooklyn, I was super excited and then when I found out they did the deal with De La Hoya I lost it," DiBella said. "Genuinely, I thought it was the wrong thing. In any market the promoter who calls the market home is going to do a better job. I had been awaiting the opportunity to do big events in Brooklyn since I became a promoter [in 2000], so Brett and I didn't get off to a good start."

But now DiBella has promoted two Premier Boxing Champions cards there, the April 11 card topped by Garcia-Lamont Peterson -- which generated the arena's first seven-figure boxing gate -- and Khan-Algieri. DiBella also will promote the Aug. 1 card there, which is likely to be headlined by Garcia. Now, DiBella can't say enough good things about working with Yormark and his staff.

"Brett and I did not have a good start but we have been working so closely now for months," DiBella said. "I have tremendous respect for the guy and he has become a friend. I enjoy working with him big time and they have a great organization. Their marketing and PR people are really good.

"There's a reason why the Barclays Center is doing so well. I've had a good relationship with the guys over at the Garden and I still do. I'm a Rangers season ticket holder. But there's no question we now have two great facilities in New York City. The Barclays Center is establishing itself as one of the country's great facilities for big-time boxing.

"I think they are making boxing a priority. I think that Brett is legitimately a fan and he wants to do the biggest events in the sport. The people at the building get it."

Yormark is a boxing fan and said besides the business boxing brings the arena that it's great for Brooklyn, which has produced numerous star fighters, to have a venue where the up-and-comer from the borough can aspire to fight at. That is one of the reasons Barclays Center aggressively sought to become the home of the New York Golden Gloves in 2013 after it had been staged for years at Madison Square Garden.

Yormark has personally gotten to know many of the fighters who have boxed in the building, especially the Brooklyn fighters, including Jacobs.

"They're hands on, very personable with the fighters who fight there," Jacobs said. "They make us feel like it's our arena. Brett has become a friend. He and his staff treat us so well. I don't know the other guys at arenas I fight at but I know Brett and the people at the Barclays Center and I really appreciate what they have done for us."

Jacobs nearly died of cancer and after he got a clean bill of health, he made an emotional return to the ring at the Barclays Center in 2012. Last summer, he won his title there.

"At one point, when I wasn't able to box, my biggest motivation was to get better and for the Barclays Center to be a place to display my talents," Jacobs said. "First there was the mecca of boxing [Madison Square Garden] and now there is the Barclays Center. It's the place where everyone wants to display their skills. It's a special and unique building. The impact it has had on our neighborhood has been amazing. We always used to have to go over the bridge for a place to fight and now we have an arena of our own."

Yormark's involvement in boxing extends beyond the Barclays Center, which also runs the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. Once its $260 million renovation -- which begins in August -- is complete, Yormark said boxing will be a major component of the programming there.

Yormark also runs the LIU Brooklyn Paramount Theater, which will host its first club boxing show on Thursday night. He envisions both venues as places that will host regular boxing and serve as a feeder system for the bigger shows at Barclays Center.

"There are a lot of different reasons I'm in the [boxing] business," Yormark said. "First and foremost is the sport itself and how it connects to Brooklyn. Boxing has deep roots in Brooklyn. We want to restore boxing in Brooklyn to its rightful position in the borough. A lot of great fighters have come out of Brooklyn and we want Barclays Center to be an aspirational venue where fighters say they want to fight, especially the young fighters coming up."

He listed some of the Brooklyn boxers who have already fought there, including Jacobs, Zab Judah, Paulie Malignaggi, Luis Collazo and Peter Quillin.

"[The arena's association with boxing] has been everything we hoped it would be in addition to being a place Brooklyn fighters aspire to fight at," Yormark said. "We also wanted to be recognized as a leading venue in the country. We think we've done that."